There are a couple of communities of older women that live
in the suburbs surrounding mine. They
have dedicated their life to the service of others. Some have taught in schools, some have
assisted numerous people through hard times, some have provided support and
assistance to those that for some reason or other have been unable to find
solace through the social security system and in the majority of cases, these
women have fulfilled a number of these roles.
They ask for no physical reward (although a thank you is always
appreciated) and have met and overcome a number of challenges since they chose
to take on a life time of altruistic service to others. These women are Catholic nuns.
The reality of the last 50 years is that Catholic nuns
have gone out and live in the community, have to look after themselves and are
watching the demise of their chosen lifestyle happen in front of them. For example, most Mater or Mercy branded
hospitals around the world were started by the Catholic Sisters of Mercy. In a lot of cases, the multi-million dollar
businesses that the nuns built from literally nothing in larger population
centres have been sold or the service converted to a ‘non-profit’ company as the Sisters don't have the people to run them any more. Any profit from the health care service subsidise
outreach services or fund services that benefit the community where the
hospital is located.
In our increasing secular society, it is a fact that nuns
are a dying breed – as the number of young women who choose to follow this
lifestyle goes nowhere near the number of older nuns. Most of the older nuns entered their chosen
profession on the basis that if they performed the duties required of them,
their physical needs would be taken care of by others (that these days just
Religious people in general have to face up to the secular
world of today, the knowledge that there are few people to carry their work and
traditions into the future and they are physically not as capable of fulfilling
the demands of the work they used to do.
It must really hurt to see the entire organisation they believe in being
caught up in the media reporting of practices that are frankly abhorrent at the
Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The behaviour isn’t solely an Australian failing,
a similar enquiry has been undertaken in
Ireland and similar results have been uncovered.
But it’s not only the Catholic Church that has this
problem. Other religious groups, the
Scout Association and various sporting groups have been implicated in the
Australian Royal Commission – as they all have overseas as well. While institutional abuse of others needs to
be exposed and those who have participated brought to account – there are
consequences to the exposure that are probably underestimated.
corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so the saying goes. Post-apartheid South Africa instituted the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’
to ‘enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally
accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation’.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, when discussing the South African Commission commented:
If you asked even the most sober students of South
African affairs what they thought was going to happen to South Africa a few
years ago, almost universally they predicted that the most ghastly catastrophe
would befall us; that as sure as anything, we would be devastated by a
It did not happen. Instead, the world watched with
amazement, indeed awe, at the long lines of South Africans of all races,
snaking their way to their polling booths on April 27, 1994. And they thrilled
as they witnessed Nelson Mandela being inaugurated as the first democratically
elected president of South Africa on May 10, 1994. Nearly everyone described
what they were witnessing -- a virtually bloodless, reasonably peaceful
transition from injustice and oppression to freedom and democracy -- as a
When the disaster did not overtake us, there were
those who said, “Wait until a black-led government takes over. Then these
blacks who have suffered so grievously in the past will engage in the most
fearful orgy of revenge and retribution against the whites.”
Well, that prediction too was not fulfilled.
Instead the world saw something quite unprecedented. They saw the process of
the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when perpetrators of some of the most
gruesome atrocities were given amnesty in exchange for a full disclosure of the
facts of the offence. Instead of revenge and retribution, this new nation chose
to tread the difficult path of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
There are a
number of comparisons that can be made between the apartheid era in South
Africa and the various bodies who’s members are being named and shamed in the
various Commissions and Enquiries that have or are being conducted around the
world. It is fair to suggest that some
have yet to learn the lesson of reconciliation and disclosure – as these two
recent headlines from The Guardian highlight.
Cormac Murphy-O'Connor memoirs 'censored' by church and Vatican
official's call for Pell to be removed will have 'set cat among the pigeons.
While the recounting of their experiences to the Royal
Commission is probably incredibly difficult and healing at the same time, the
horrific actions perpetrated against the victims by individuals is a reflection
of the actions of the individual – not the organisation they belonged to. True, it seems that some of the organisational leaders
covered up and made it difficult for the victims to be heard and receive
assistance; but the organisation certainly didn’t tell the individual to
perform the action or the cover-up.
that have abused their position and those that have covered up the abuse should
be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Those who are victims of the abuse deserve our sympathy and support –
now and in the future. However those who have
worked unceasingly in the name of the organisations that are subject to the
enquiries of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child
Sexual Abuse in a lot of cases for decades do not deserve to suffer further due to the actions of a few. In a lot of cases, they are just as horrified
as the rest of us.
What do you think?
Lifeline - 13 11 14
Beyondblue – 1300 22 4636
Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse - 1800 099 340